Las Vegas owner Bill Foley is confident his new NHL team name is worth the wait
Bill Foley estimates that three-quarters of his days are devoted to hockey, even though right now he’s calling from northern California wine country, site of one of several businesses owned by the billionaire proprietor—including, as of last June, an expansion NHL franchise. “You’ve got to remember,” Foley says. “I knew nothing about running a sports team. This is all new territory for me. It’s interesting. But it’s new territory.” Still, as the 2016-17 regular season shifted into drive, that still-unnamed organization based in Las Vegas continued knocking tasks from an unending list, each one pointing toward its on-ice debut next fall.
Two weeks ago, Foley hired longtime NBA executive Kerry Bubolz from the Cavaliers, naming him team president and giving him oversight of business operations. T-Mobile Arena hosted two L.A. Kings preseason games on Oct. 7 and 8, while Foley held investor meetings, GM George McPhee conducted the first of semi-regular mock expansion drafts with his scouting staff, and ground was broken on a 120,000-square-foot suburban practice facility. Most recently, season ticket holders began selecting their seats through a virtual portal—300 conversions per day over the next 3-4 weeks, Foley says—and on Monday Tom Poraszka, creator of General Fanager, a popular salary cap site, was named a hockey operations analyst.
There’s plenty more ahead, too. Foley hopes to soon find a media consultant to help broker television agreements, and continues filling various sponsorship categories. McPhee, whose hockey staff now hovers around 30, is hitting the road on in-person scouting trips. The second of three scheduled payments toward a $500 million expansion fee will be made Jan. 15; the final comes April 1, at which point Foley and his minority partners—Joe and Gavin Maloof—will officially own the team. “I’ll start going to the Board of Governors meetings, we will then convert our ticket revenue into cash flow and our sponsorships into cash flow,” Foley says. “Until then, everything is escrowed, so we don’t really have any cash flow yet.”
The one main avenue through which Vegas could generate revenue, Foley says—“jerseys, T-shirts, gym bags, hats,” and other merchandise—happens to derive from the one area that’s taken the longest to announce: The nickname. “That’s one of the reasons why I’m anxious to resolve the team colors and the logo and the look of the uniforms quickly,” Foley says. “I want them to start wearing it right away. I want them to go to away games for other teams and wear our jersey. Let’s get it going. Let’s start the promotion.”
Foley understands the irony of his enthusiasm here; after all, he alone holds the keys keeping the nickname locked up. It was actually finalized in early August, but Foley has only publicly narrowed the finalists to the Desert Knights, Golden Knights, or Silver Knights. “I really thought we’d use the name Black Knights,” says Foley, a West Point graduate who also runs a company called Black Knight Financial Services. “I thought I had my color scheme pretty well put together. Not using that name, we’ve had to go back to the drawing board, and it’s taken a while.”
With the Black Knights, Foley encountered three main roadblocks. “The community response was not that positive,” he says. “The Blackhawks never said anything, but I knew there would be a complication with the Blackhawks, because they’ve got the world Black in their name. And then it’s trademarked by Army, and they were a little concerned about it. So I finally gave up. I just said, ‘Forget it, I’ll go in a different direction.’
“That’s when we started looking at all different types of names. We went through the Nighthawks, Deserthawks, Redhawks, then we had a bunch of other names we fooled around with, then we went back to the Knights idea. I wanted to have this culture around the name that I could create a warrior spirit, a team and warrior spirit. I believe I can do that with the name Knights.
“And then we were fooling around with color schemes and logos. So what is this, middle of October? We’re getting there.” He laughs. He had initially hoped to unveil everything before the exhibitions earlier this month. Then the date got pushed back to Nov. 19. Now it’s Nov. 22, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. “We’re getting close.”
As Foley and his charges finalize the look, though, they’re aiming for an undefined target. “Once I see it, we’ll know,” he says. The first real opportunity happens Wednesday, when Foley meets with reps from adidas and the NHL. “We’re actually going to see the fabric and see the color schemes on fabric, as opposed to looking at them [online],” he says. “If I have to delay again, I’ll delay, but I want to make sure we do it right, that we have a color scheme that people can identify with that will pop, that they can really see, when you go to that arena, it’s a sea of a color that resonates throughout the whole arena.”
Foley senses the growing public frustration—or, at the very least, impatience—the longer his franchise remains the Las Vegas TBDs. He supposes the logo is 95% finished. The road jerseys are finalized too, but the proposed base color on the home set left something to be desired. “The first two times I saw it, it was recessive,” Foley says. “I didn’t think it was bright enough, popped enough.”
And so we wait, Foley perhaps more than anyone. “I want to share it, but I can’t get, and I want to make sure it’s right, or at least right in my mind,” he says. “May not be right. Two years from now, we may change the jerseys because we don’t feel they were right. But I want to do the best we possibly can with this name, and with this color scheme and the logo I can do. I’m really not frustrated…I’m just anxious to reach a conclusion."